If there is one lesson that Gurdaspur incident throws up, it is simply this: police reforms are too important to neglect and too urgent to delay, if we have to fight terror effectively.
During the last few years, most debate on the subject of police reforms has centered around the need to insulate the police from illegitimate political interference. This debate, though important, has not succeeded in creating mechanisms to ensure proper and healthy political control over the police.
Neither the recommendations of the National Police Commission nor the directions given by the Supreme Court in its judgement of September 22, 2006 have dented the resistance of the governments to implementing such reforms. It is obvious that no political party will ever allow its control over the police force to be weakened. It is therefore time we shifted the emphasis from this approach to highlighting the need to develop and modernise the police forces under the existing system.
Most important police reform initiatives in the world have been born out of major events. These have emerged either out of conflict situations, like those that occurred in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Eastern Timor, or out of major corruption scandals, like the appointment of the Royal Commission on Policing in the United Kingdom, Fitzgerald Commission in Queensland in Australia and Knapp Commission in the United States of America. The National Police Commission was set up following one of the biggest scandals of modern post independent India- imposition of emergency in June 1975.
In this background, it is remarkable that such a major event as the violent terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 did not lead to major police reforms. No other incident in post independent India exposed the glaring deficiencies in the functioning of police in this country as this incident. About seven years have passed, but there has been no perceptible improvement in terror fighting capability of the police force.
Since the Mumbai incident, numerous terror related incidents in different parts of the country have taken place, Gurdaspur being the latest one. The police forces’ response has been as good or as bad as it was during the Mumbai terror attack. We have neither been able to prevent nor investigate all terror incidents successfully.
After the Mumbai massacre, the central government announced some reforms that included setting up of a new agency like the NIA, establishing new hubs of NSG, making the provisions of anti terror law more stringent and setting up of counter insurgency and anti terrorism training schools. However, the central and state governments forgot that there was a huge existing police force waiting to be reformed. It was not realised it would not be possible for the police forces to deal with such incidents in future unless they were made professionally efficient and modernised.
Alarming Statistics and Problems
There are glaring deficiencies in meeting the requirements of police forces. On January 1, 2014, though the total sanctioned strength of the State Police Forces was 22.83 lakhs, their actual strength was much less- only 17.22 lakhs. There were thus as many as 5.61 lakh vcancies in the beginning of 2014. In other words, slightly less than one fourth (24.56 %) of the total sanctioned strength of police in states/union territories was vacant. In one state i.e Uttar Pradesh, more than half of the sanctioned strength of police (about 54%) was vacant.
Police departments get a fairly small proportion of the available resources from their state governments. The average budget allocation for Police in 2013-14 was only 2.97% of total budget of 27 state governments.
Police training is another neglected area. State governments have not provided enough funds to meet training requirements. The percentage of expenditure incurred on police training to total police expenditure ranged from 1.09 to 1.41 during the period 1990-91 to 1999-2000. During 2013-14, it was only 1.77%
The Police Modernisation Scheme of the central government has been in existence for about four and a half decades now. Though it has definitely resulted in improving the mobility, communication and some other facilities available to the police, the Scheme has not succeeded in giving a comprehensive modern look to the State Police forces. The requirements are huge and State Governments have not done their bit to provide adequate funds out of their budgets.
Fighting terrorism would require a combined effort from both the central and state governments to build up a police force that is foundationally strong to function in an efficient and effective but also unbiased manner. This functioning has to be seen not only when they are dealing with emergencies, like the one that occurred in Gurdaspur but also when they are doing normal day to day policing. A sustained war against terror requires the development of a police force that is well organised, well controlled, well led, well equipped and well trained- a force that is friendly, sensitive and impartially fair, but firm.
While all that is needed by the security forces to neutralise terror should be provided to them, what will help in winning the war against terror is public faith and confidence in the efficiency and integrity of the police agencies– a faith that leads to increasing inflow of intelligence and a willing cooperation being provided to the security forces. This can happen only when they start doing their basic job in a professionally efficient, honest and impartial manner and the government provides the police the environment and the enabling capacity to do so.
By G. P. Joshi
The author is a retired police officer. He is also an author of two books: (1) ‘Policing in India- Some Unpleasant Essays’ and (2) ‘Police Organisation in India- Some Basic Information” – (under print)